• 06
    Jun
    Posted in:
    Ford May Have an Interest in Michigan Central Station
    Featured image by HarshLight via Flickr

    The Michigan Central Station in Detroit is often talked of as if it’s a barometer for the city’s prosperity. Opened in 1913, the station was built to grow Detroit’s connection to the rest of the country. In 1988, when it closed, the still-standing station was seen as a symbol of the city’s past decline.

    Now, about three decades after trains stopped passing through this architectural marvel, the station seems to be on the verge of a revival that has already swept through the rest of Detroit. But before we discuss the potential plans and reopening of Michigan Central Station, let’s get into some of the history that led us to this point.


    The Beginning

    Railroad travel was introduced in the 18th century, and by the turn of the 20th, diesel locomotives were hitting the scene. Around this time (from 1884 until 1913), Detroit’s railroad depot was located at Third and Jefferson. However, the city had plans to build an underwater rail tunnel and decided to build a new train station right near it.

    The city of Detroit acquired the 50 acres they required to build the station in Corktown, but they had to purchase numerous neighborhood homes in the process, which, according to HistoricDetroit.org, was a difficult task.

    The station was built with help from two architectural firms who had previously worked on New York’s Grand Central Station. One of the firms specialized in designing railroad stations while the other specialized in hotels. By combining their styles, a station was erected that had a grandiose terminal with dignified tiers on top of it.

    Michigan Central Station

    Photo of Michigan Central Station from 2011 // Photo by John McKerrell via Flickr


    The Fire

    A month before Michigan Central Station in Detroit was dedicated, a catastrophe happened: the city’s soon-to-be-closed train depot caught fire. On December 26th, 1913, at 2:10 PM, the fire started, and shortly after that, officials knew the old building was doomed. What is remarkable, though, is that the new station was already at a point where it could start running trains through it. In order to avoid disrupting service of the train lines, Michigan Central Station was prematurely opened with great success.

    “At 5:20 p.m., the first train left the new station for Saginaw and Bay City, Mich.; an hour later, the first train arrived, having steamed in from Chicago.” -HistoricDetroit.org


    Illuminating Michigan Central Station

    In the decades after it opened, Michigan Central Station thrived. However, in the 1980s, travel by train was declining as more people drove or flew to their destinations. On January 5, 1988, the last train left the station bound for Chicago, just as a similar train had arrived from the Windy City 75 years earlier.

    In the decades since it closed, not a lot has happened with Michigan Central Station. The interior was looted for scrap materials, the windows were broken, and a trespasser fell 30+ feet through the floor in 2012.

    As Corktown steadily grows, Roosevelt Park, in front of the station, is becoming more popular with people walking over to visit the Two James Distillery and tasting room. The most recent signs of progress were the replacement of the windows and added lights inside the building by the building’s current owner, Manuel Moroun. In September, for Detroit Homecoming 2018, the windows were lit up with a light display showcasing this beautiful building.

    Train

    Photo by Karsun Designs via Flickr


    Ford is Getting Curious

    Someone other than Moroun has been thinking about Michigan Central Station. Executives at Ford have been in the news recently because they’ve contemplated buying the building for themselves. While they’re still headquartered in Dearborn, they already have a presence in Corktown with Team Edison, the division of the company dedicated to electric and autonomous cars.

    There hasn’t been a lot of official news, as Ford Executives do not want to discuss plans that are not yet concrete, however, the spokeswoman for Ford had something enticing to tell the Associated Press:

    “We expect to grow our presence in Detroit and will share more details in the future.”

    While we don’t know what will become of this architectural gem, what’s clear is that the future of the building is being talked about publicly again. If Michigan Central Station is considered to be a barometer for Detroit, then the fact that it has a future fits perfectly with what’s going on in the rest of the city.